Smart modernisation: making the most of new technology

Existing fleets, from very old to recently built, require modernisation solutions to boost train performance or to add new functions, including the latest digital technologies. Bruno Gajan and Aren Serik from Alstom’s asset life management solutions explain the “smart” and cost-effective modernisation solutions on offer.

Aren and Bruno headshots

Bruno Gajan | Asset Life Management Market and Growth Manager (left)

Aren Serik | Modernisation Solutions Development Director (right) 

What is smart modernisation?

Aren: It’s about modernisation first. We are in asset life management, so we propose solutions to modernise our customers’ fleets. This has three aspects: modernising fleets to maintain existing performance, which we call life modernisation; improving the environmental profile of trains, or green modernisation; and thirdly, smart modernisation, which is about improving the performance of existing trains by bringing new functionalities and technologies. We call it “smart” because these intelligent new technologies and systems enhance performance. Alstom is the market leader for modernisation and has modernised over 40,000 vehicles worldwide.

What types of smart modernisation solutions can Alstom provide?

Bruno: We have divided our smart modernisation catalogue of solutions into four areas: operation performance; energy performance; passenger experience; and digital services enablers. Operation performance includes all the solutions to help the operator have better, safer and more fluid train operation: for example, improving the driver experience or the signalling, and solutions to improve passenger safety, for example, the ‘anti trap and drag’ door system, which uses sensors to detect when people get an arm or a finger stuck in a door and prevents the doors from closing.

On energy performance, we have solutions to reduce the energy consumed in the train, from the traction system to HVAC and lighting, up to the way the train is operated. For example, we have a driver advisory system, which informs the driver of how to improve the train’s speed profile and energy consumption.

On passenger experience, we have many solutions, from adjusting train interiors to improving the communication or connectivity systems, but also new solutions to respond to new events or regulations. For example, relating to the Covid-19 pandemic, we have developed a filter that can be installed in the HVAC system to kill over 99% of the virus and bacteria. We also offer upgrades that improve the experience of passengers with disabilities.

Finally, on digital services enablers, we have several solutions to modernise old fleets that are not digital natives. For example, we have a complete set of solutions (sensors, routers, switches, netbox) to capture the data, route the data by the train network and transfer the data from the train to the ground using 4G or Wi-Fi.

What are some of the benefits of smart modernisation?

Aren: We offer ‘ready to install’ or ‘ready to use’ smart solutions that can be installed quickly alongside classic modernisation solutions during an overhaul, so the customer does not have to compromise on fleet availability. These are existing solutions that have already been proven in use.

Secondly, as Bruno mentioned, we can offer new technologies to deal with a new context such as Covid-19, cybersecurity or new regulations, which compel customers to react rapidly. Another aspect is improving the total cost of ownership as we offer devices and solutions that improve both operation and maintenance costs. For example, changing from DC traction to AC traction – a smart modernisation solution that we offer for different types of rolling stock – the customer not only cuts their energy bill, but reduces the maintenance needed on the traction system. They get a smaller, lighter traction system that also improves the reliability of the system. There is a capital expenditure investment at the start but a higher operating expense benefit in the end.

How does Alstom tailor smart modernisation solutions to the customer's needs?

Bruno: We have a catalogue that contains hundreds of solutions that serve every kind of customer with all kinds of fleets, whatever the traction, rolling stock, etc. We have collected, within the company, all the available innovations to build this comprehensive catalogue, allowing customers to discover new innovations they didn’t know about. Also, as Aren said, we can carry out smart modernisations during, say, a midlife overhaul or a life extension, so these upgrades can be carried out during a scheduled immobilisation of the train.

Given the rising energy prices, what modernisation solutions is Alstom proposing to help customers?

Aren: Alstom offers several types of solutions for energy saving. Bruno mentioned the driver advisory system, which is one of the important solutions as it offers a potential 10 to 15% energy consumption reduction. We also offer an energy metering system which gives an understanding of the real energy consumption of a train, so the end customer pays the right bill. Among other solutions, there are several possibilities to improve HVAC energy consumption, and there’s LED lighting, which does not have the biggest impact in terms of energy consumption, but is a ‘quick win’, something that can be easily and quickly implemented. Also, we can upgrade high-power modules to new generation technologies, which can save millions of euros across a whole fleet. Often, we are not just addressing energy consumption, but problems of maintenance and obsolescence issues as well.